Each year, the Ottawa Business Journal and the Ottawa Board of Trade recognize the accomplishments, professional experience and community involvement of 40 of the region's rising young business stars.
Ahead of this year's Forty Under 40 celebrations, OBJ is sharing stories from this year's recipients of achievements, obstacles and inspiration – as well as the lessons they've learned along the way.
In this group of Forty Under 40 profiles, we meet this year’s recipients from the health care and non-profit sectors:
Bradley Bezan, founder and CEO, Spark Lifecare
Business: Healthcare matchmaker
Born: Kapuskasing, Ont.
Biggest business achievement: The lives we have changed at Spark. We can successfully help a child overcome a cancer diagnosis, help someone walk again after a catastrophic accident or be there when a senior has their last few breaths when they have no friends or family.
Biggest obstacle overcome: Following through on our commitment to bootstrap Spark from start to finish.
Biggest influences: I lost my father and hero to mental illness a few years into building Spark. I am proud to continue his fight for ending the stigmas surrounding mental health.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: In a post-COVID economy, the companies that take care of their people the best when nobody is watching will be the most successful ones.
Charitable involvement: Spark University
First job: Slinging newspapers!
Advice I’d give the younger me: You don’t have to be Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. The world already has one of each of these people. My clients, coworkers and family need a Bradley Bezan. Be him.
Favourite pastime: Spending time at my cottage with my wife and kids.
Dr. Tracy Dalgleish, psychologist, Integrated Wellness
Biggest business achievement: I founded Integrated Wellness, starting as one clinician. It’s now a collective of eight female mental health care providers.
Biggest obstacle overcome: I joined social media in 2018, sharing evidence-based research and tools about mental health. There were very few psychologists on the platform at the time and I had to overcome a fear of being seen in this different way professionally.
Biggest influences: Dr. Sue Johnson, creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and author of Hold Me Tight. Our meetings over tea in her sun-filled kitchen helped me push past my fear of failing my dissertation and find my voice in writing and clinical work.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: In order to move through something, you need to be willing to allow yourself to sit in uncomfortable feelings without a true knowing of the outcome.
First job: Working at a small-town pizza shop
Advice I’d give the younger me: You can do hard things.
Favourite pastime: Being outside, with the opportunity to connect with nature and move my body, while having my two children and partner beside me.
Meseret Haileyesus, CEO, Canadian Center for Women’s Empowerment
Biggest business achievement: Reached more than 10,000 people on how to identify and respond to economic abuse, financial abuse and post-separation violence in the context of IPV.
Biggest obstacle overcome: Learning how to get out of my own way by letting go of what I think others expect of me and focusing on being myself. Also, learning how to juggle priorities as a working mother.
Biggest influences: My mother has taught me that hard times can be overcome and that losing battles can be won. She is my inspiration and my role model.
Charitable involvement: Ambassador of Meaningful Business – a curated global network of progressive leaders who are combining purpose and profit to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
First job: Midwife
Advice I’d give the younger me: To find the power of knowledge, aspire to inspire and set periodic goals. Look for mentors and invest in relationships.
Favourite pastime: Mesicho
Dr. Samuel Hetz, owner and medical director, Concept Medical
Business: Advanced cosmetic medicine and medical skin clinic
Biggest business achievement: Welcoming our 15,000th patient in December 2020.
Biggest obstacle overcome: With no prior business background, learning and navigating the operations of a small business.
Biggest influences: My wife, Hana. For the last 17 years she has been my biggest supporter, constantly encouraging and believing in me.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: There is so much that can be done virtually. We have shifted our consultation process to 80 per cent virtual and will likely continue post-pandemic.
First job: Subway
Advice I’d give the younger me: Worry less. It always works out.
Favourite pastime: Great food with friends and family – cooking and dining!
Taylor Johansen, autism program director, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
Biggest business achievement: Helping CHEO’s YouthNet/RéseauAdo program triple its capacity and reach.
Biggest obstacle overcome: Becoming a mother and learning how to carry the responsibilities of parenthood while pressing forward with personal and professional growth.
Biggest influences: I worked as a frontline disability support worker in Australia and cared for an incredible young man with multiple diagnoses, significant mental health challenges, social disadvantages and the most honest heart. Ray taught me the meaning of vulnerability, inspired me to pursue graduate-level education and led me down the career path I am on today. Also, my strong, cancer-surviving, career woman mother, Faye Linseman.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: We can quickly and dramatically change systems and reinvent the way we deliver healthcare services.
Charitable involvement: CHEO Foundation
First job: Delivering Avon catalogs
Advice I’d give the younger me: Learn to cook earlier!
Favourite pastime: In summer, hiking in the Greenbelt with my husband and two daughters. In winter, curling.
Benjamin Leikin, mental health and substance use manager, Ottawa Public Health
Business: Promoting and protecting the health of individuals and our community.
Biggest business achievement: Developed and implemented the first mental health strategy for the City of Ottawa.
Biggest obstacle overcome: A lack of funding and government support for mental health programs and services.
Biggest influences: As an ADHD kid growing up, it was all the people in my life helping me channel my energy into positive outlets such as sports and volunteering – especially my grandma Phyllis, my parents and a few special teachers and principals who helped keep me out of trouble!
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Don’t sweat the small stuff, because if you are safe and healthy, and your family is safe and healthy, everything else is small stuff.
Charitable involvement: The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
First job: Rink attendant at Fisher Park community rink
Advice I’d give the younger me: You don’t have to have it all figured out, just keep working hard, have fun and be kind to others and yourself.
Favourite pastime: Any physical activity outside and in nature
Allan Reesor-McDowell, executive director, Matthew House Ottawa
Business: Charity providing shelter, furnishings and community to refugees and those transitioning to permanent housing.
Biggest business achievement: Turned around a local charity that was struggling financially.
Biggest obstacle overcome: Increased donors by 162 per cent and donations by 168 per cent in 2020, even as more than two-thirds of charities nationwide saw a decline in donations amid the pandemic.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Don’t base your decisions on other people’s assumptions. Early on in the pandemic, I kept hearing that “the timing wasn’t right to fundraise for charity” as “everyone” was struggling. I took a different approach and invited people to support the important work we are doing at Matthew House Ottawa, and we saw a significant increase in donors and donations during the pandemic.
Charitable involvement: Matthew House Ottawa
First job: Selling poultry and eggs at a market
Advice I’d give the younger me: Listen well. Be open-minded, and learn as much as you can. Be confident enough to think for yourself.
Favourite pastime: Reading